How the Jazz stole Game 1 from Doncic-less Dallas in the clutch
Donovan Mitchell scores 30 of his game-high 32 points in the second half and Royce O’Neale makes a huge 3-pointer in the final minute at American Airlines Center
Royce O’Neale probably isn’t the “secret weapon” that Bojan Bogdanovic promised would show up for Utah in its first-round NBA playoffs series against the Dallas Mavericks, but his 3-pointer with just under a minute remaining might just have saved the Jazz from another embarrassing fourth-quarter collapse.
O’Neale’s only basket of the game, which came after he had missed his first four shots but pulled down an offensive rebound to keep a possession alive, was emblematic of how the Jazz managed to stay aggressive when the natural tendency would have been to get conservative, coach Quin Snyder said.
“There were some moments like that (shot by Royce O’Neale) where I thought our mental toughness was challenged and we really responded.” — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder
The shot righted the fading Jazz and proved to be the biggest bucket in an eventual 99-93 win at American Airlines Center in Dallas that No. 5 seed Utah had to have, particularly because the Mavericks played without star guard Luka Doncic, a league MVP candidate.
“I mean, it was a big make,” O’Neale said. “Every day I keep shooting the ball. Shooters go through slumps.
“I just gotta stop thinking about the past, keep going to the future and keep thinking every one I shoot after that is going in.”
The Jazz clearly benefited by that same mindset, refusing to let past second-half failures get to them this time.
“There were some moments like that where I thought our mental toughness was challenged and we really responded,” Snyder said.
Game 2 in the series is Monday night in Dallas (6:30 p.m., NBATV) and Doncic, who is out with a strained left calf, is again questionable to go.
The Jazz (50-33) didn’t play particularly well on offense, shooting 43% from the floor and turning the ball over 14 times.
They were just 7 of 22 (32%) from 3-point range, which is usually their meal ticket. But they punished the Mavericks for playing small ball — winning the rebounding battle 63-42 — and blocking four shots.
“For us, we did our job. We got Game 1. Now we gotta go out there and get Game 2,” said Donovan Mitchell, who scored 30 of his game-high 32 points in the second half.
“We’re not satisfied with this one. We can play better as well. … I think we have had better shooting nights, but this shows that our defense kinda did its thing.”
Indeed, the Mavericks (52-31), who fell to 8-10 in games in which Doncic doesn’t play, shot just 38% and cooled off from 3-point range after a hot start.
Dallas got 24 points from Jalen Brunson and 22 from Spencer Dinwiddie, but Dinwiddie was 10 of 16 from the free-throw line, which proved costly.
The Mavericks paraded to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter to mount a comeback. They made just three field goals in the final seven minutes — 3-pointers by Maxi Kleber and Reggie Bullock and a deuce by Dorian Finney-Smith — but got within a point with two minutes remaining.
“We had some unnecessary fouls as a group,” Mitchell said. “Outside of that, we did some pretty good things and we will get better.”
Things they didn’t do late in games late in the season that robbed them of a lot of playoff momentum. Did that midseason mojo make a grand return?
Snyder spoke as if it has. Of course, not having to deal with Doncic cannot be overstated. Lower-seeded Utah was a five-point favorite, after all.
The Jazz were expected to win, and they did.
“Not to diminish the importance of plays and execution, but I think our group, one, we continued to attack,” Snyder said.
The coach continually mentioned the selflessness of his team in his postgame remarks, citing Bogdanovic (26 points) for carrying the Jazz in the first half when Mitchell was struggling to score and being willing to pass out of post-ups when a teammate flashed open.
Lost in O’Neale’s big triple was the fact that he grabbed an offensive rebound moments before on a hustle play.
“You look at Royce O’Neale’s 3, where he hasn’t made a shot in the game,” Snyder said. “The fact that he didn’t hesitate, and shot that ball, that’s a mindset. I think it is a mindset that our team has right now.
“If we continue to just consistently play throughout the course of the game to put the group ahead of any individual contribution, that formulaically for us is something that is really important,” Snyder continued. “… It sounds like a cliche, the old ‘team effort’ thing, but that is what it is about and I think it requires a team when adversity comes to collectively face that and work through it, and that’s what we were able to do.”
The Jazz led 45-43 at the half, thanks to Bogdanovic’s 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting. The Mavs defended the big Croatian with a guard, and Bogdanovic repeatedly made them pay.
“Bogey’s” points were needed, because Mitchell missed his first six shots and had just two points in the first half on 1 of 9 shooting.
It was the fewest points in a first half that Mitchell has ever had in a playoff game.
The Jazz were also ice-cold from 3-point range in the first half, going 2 of 11 from beyond the arc.
Bogdanovic’s 2 of 4 shooting from deep was the only positive in that regard, including a triple with 2.2 seconds left in the half that gave the Jazz the lead at the break after Dallas led most of the first half.
Snyder says he reminded his team at halftime of that play, set up by a Mitchell pass, focusing on that instead of the poor shooting performance from the other guys.
Jordan Clarkson added 10 first-half point off the bench.
Rudy Gobert impacted the game despite taking just one shot and not scoring in the second half. He blocked three shots, altered a good dozen more and had 17 rebounds.
“We talk about sacrifice — that’s what it is about,” Gobert said.
The most noteworthy plays in the third quarter involved Mitchell. First, he was struck in the face by Finney-Smith while making a layup, resulting in a flagrant foul call.
A few minutes later, Mitchell banked in a 3-pointer to put the Jazz up 59-53 with 6:20 left in the third.
Mitchell had 19 points in the third quarter while playing with far more vinegar than he did in the first two quarters.
“I just had to be in attack mode,” he said. “I came out a little bit too passive, but in the same respect, Bojan was rolling.”
Utah had a 12-point lead in the third before the Mavericks closed the quarter well. Danuel House made a huge 3-pointer in the final minute of the frame to push the Jazz’s lead out to eight.
Bogdanovic didn’t score in the third — missing the only shot he attempted — but he came up big in the fourth, including a huge bucket with 4:36 left that ended a Dallas run and gave the Jazz an 88-81 lead.
The Jazz were plus-11 when Bogdanovic was on the floor.
O’Neale’s big triple came with 57 seconds left and pushed Utah’s lead to 95-91. Credit Mitchell for giving the ball up to the open guy as the Mavs’ defense focused on the Jazz’s leading scorer.
“To be honest, I had it in my head that I was going to shoot it anyway,” O’Neale said. “I just had to make sure it was a 3, that my foot wasn’t on the line.”